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> Posted by Susy Cheston, Senior Advisor, CFI

There was good news from the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) yesterday: the announcement of a partnership with MasterCard Worldwide to build technical capacity so that AFI members are better equipped to regulate innovations in products and business models.

Since its birth seven years ago, we have admired AFI for so effectively galvanizing a powerful regulator community to set a high bar on financial inclusion. Part of AFI’s strategy has been a fierce commitment to ownership of the issue by the regulators themselves. The results have been measured not only in dramatically increased access among AFI member countries, but also in higher standards around the quality of those services, as evidenced by Maya Commitments around client protection and financial capability. AFI Working Groups have also been developed for peer learning on digital financial services, financial inclusion data, and other key issues.

Yet we are among many in the industry who have felt that AFI’s circling of the wagons meant that their policy solutions were not always smart about encouraging innovation and investment in financial inclusion. To its credit, AFI got the message, and in 2014, it launched a Public-Private Dialogue Platform (PPD) to incentivize policymakers and regulators to cooperate with the private sector. Yesterday’s announcement about the new relationship with MasterCard is a strong next step toward realizing the PPD’s promise.

This trajectory resonates with recent interviews on client protection that we have carried out at FI2020. Among the regulators we interviewed, what was striking was the path many have followed toward empowering the private sector to play an active role in customer protection. We heard about a number of good practices that build capacity and break down communication silos between the public and private sectors.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

The following post was originally published on the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth blog.

Reaching full financial inclusion by 2020 will require supportive policies in every country around the globe. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Global Microscope on Financial Inclusion, 2014” assesses the policy environment for financial inclusion in 55 countries. The Microscope examines 12 policy dimensions essential for creating an inclusion-friendly regulatory and institutional framework. The rigorous model incorporates input from hundreds of policy makers and participants in the financial sector and a review of existing policies and implementation. The resulting rankings represent the best readily available source for judging the state of financial inclusion policy around the world.

What’s surprising about the 2014 Microscope results is their wide range. Out of a possible 100 points, the top scorer (Peru) received 87 while the lowest (Haiti) earned only 16. If full inclusion requires good policies, it is disappointing to learn that the median score across all countries was a mediocre 46.

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> Posted by Eric Zuehlke, Web and Communications Director, CFI

3687338445_1579b76cceImagine you’re a young immigrant in the U.S. who’s been working for a few years in a series of low-wage jobs. Through discipline and determination, you’ve saved up some money for a down payment on a used car and you want to apply for a loan. You haven’t made many large purchases, you don’t have a credit card, and have few assets to your name. Chances are, your credit report is nonexistent and you won’t be able to access the credit you need to buy a car that will get you to your new job everyday. Tough luck.

It’s a familiar story for the “credit invisible” – tens of millions of Americans (possibly as many as 1 in 4) – some young, some elderly, and across income levels. For people without a detailed credit report or credit score, high cost lenders such as pawn shops, pay-day lenders, and check cashing services fill the void. The resulting inability to build assets, buy a home or start a business doesn’t just have implications for individuals; the lack of a ladder for climbing up the economic ladder helps entrench economic inequality.

A new research report from the Policy & Economic Research Council (PERC) indicates that the use of alternative data is presenting an opportunity for financial inclusion. A growing number of companies are using non-financial services data such as energy utilities, telecoms and cable TV history, and rent to determine credit worthiness and reach clients that typically would be financially excluded. Read the rest of this entry »

> Posted by Center Staff

Globally, about 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.25 a day. This is a huge number of people, roughly four times the population of the United States. Yet it is a smaller percentage of the world’s population than ever before – 17 percent of people living in developing countries lived in extreme poverty in 2011, compared to 43 percent in 1990. But we cannot be satisfied until extreme poverty disappears. The World Bank has put forth the goal of reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty to 3 percent or less of the world’s population by 2030.

Live Below the Line, which begins one month from today, is an opportunity to support the eradication of extreme poverty and gain some valuable perspective on what it’s like to live with such meager means. The global movement challenges individuals to live on a food budget of $1.50 a day for five days: April 27 – May 1. The set-up is simple. During the time leading up to Live Below the Line week, you pick one of 20 organizations targeting poverty elimination, then spread the word among your circles and gather fundraising support for your chosen organization. During the five days of living below the line, you and your team get a sense for the hardships that so many individuals around the world endure. To make the challenge more practical, the $1.50 budget only includes food and drink – not transport, health, or housing expenses.

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> Posted by V. McIntyre, Freelance Writer for the Harvard Kennedy School

Often, we hold out hope that innovation will happen through the great leap forward, the stroke of luck, the miracle cure – and when one candidate fails, we go off in search of another.

There is justifiable concern that this yes-or-no approach hampers international development. A recent article in the New Republic listed “big ideas” in international development that failed – not because they were bad, but because they were big. The article describes a $15 million-plus project to install thousands of water pumps attached to merry-go-rounds in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Jeffrey Sachs’s Millennium Villages which sought to overhaul entire villages by building housing, schools, clinics, roads, and other key infrastructure. In these and the article’s other cases, with expectations high and money and attention flowing in, the projects sank, often because they outgrew the scale at which they had proven to work. Yet some of a project’s apparent lack of success may simply come down to the measurement you’re using. Many of the world’s most successful development efforts – deworming campaigns, for example – only improve the average life in tiny increments.

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> Posted by Center Staff

Happy International Women’s Day! We hope you were able to partake in the worldwide celebration yesterday. If you missed out on the action, not to fear. Plenty of activities are still underway. And of course, acknowledging the achievements of women and advancing the movement for gender equality are practices best executed every day.

To spotlight the importance of financial inclusion for women, here’s a snapshot of recent research in this area. To follow are ways that you can join groups, including the United Nations and Grameen Foundation in getting involved.

In honor of International Women’s Day, last week Gallup shared global statistics on how women view their lives – graded on a 10-point scale from suffering to struggling to thriving. About a quarter of all women questioned view themselves as thriving, while the rest chose either struggling or suffering. The two areas cited most often as important for improving their lives were jobs and personal safety. While the latter is a shocking finding, this post starts with jobs, though ultimately we will see connections to personal safety as well. Global estimates pin men as almost twice as likely as women to be in full-time formal employment. In Mexico, for example, less than 50 percent of women are part of the labor force, compared to 85 percent of men.

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> Posted by Elisabeth Rhyne, Managing Director, CFI

In his book, The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee tells the history of the fight against cancer. It’s a grand saga involving scientists, doctors, patients, and politics, all wielding their best tools to find better treatments and ultimately a cure. And of course, the tale is not over: the scourge continues, though much progress has been made, and an increasing number of bright spots are appearing.

As I read, I see parallels between the evolution of that medical “war” and the struggle against poverty waged by the international development community, or at least the part of that struggle I’m part of, the struggle to give people financial tools to better their lives. The more I read, the more I see, until in each corner of the cancer story I find parallels with our own sector and its searches for solutions.

In the early 20th Century, surgeons began to treat breast cancer with radical mastectomies in which not only breast but also lymph nodes and many of the neighboring chest muscles were taken. The more radical, the greater the chances of success, went the theory. By mid-century, chemotherapies appeared. They represented another radical approach in which patients were brought to the brink of death as chemicals attacked cancerous and normal cells alike. In both cases, Mukherjee argues, brute force substituted for the absence of a deep understanding of the causes and behavior of cancer. The medical profession simply applied the tools at hand, raising the intensity as high as patients could tolerate. The tools sometimes cured the patient, but more often postponed the inevitable recurrence, a partial success. According to Mukherjee, the surgeons and chemotherapists who wielded these instruments were so convinced of their efficacy that they closed their minds to alternatives (including each other’s solutions), scoffed at attempts to measure success through rigorous trials, and downplayed the suffering imposed on actual patients.

Maybe you’re already seeing parallels…

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> Posted by Nadia van de Walle, Senior Africa Specialist, the Smart Campaign

The marijuana industry is burgeoning. While consumer demand has always spurred this black market business, commerce has expanded over the last few years with the legalization of medical use in 23 U.S. states and recreational use in Washington, Colorado, and (just a few days ago) Washington, D.C. It may come as a surprise that cannabis growers and sellers face some steep financial inclusion challenges.

Despite state decriminalization or legalization, marijuana remains a “controlled substance” per federal statutes and unfortunately for “Ganga Station” or “Glorious Buds” it is federal jurisdiction that matters when it comes to the banking sector and disciplining its dealings with what it categorizes as illegal enterprise. As a result, banks must ultimately worry about criminal charges. Most decide the risks associated with pot proprietors as clients are too high. As a result of their limbo position between state and federal law and enforcement, those in the business are increasingly speaking about their frustrations in being unbanked.

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> Posted by Abhishek Agrawal, India Country Director, Accion, and Victoria White, Senior Vice President and Asia Regional Head, Accion

In November 2013, Dr. Raghuram Rajan was appointed Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). In his maiden speech, he announced plans to issue differentiated banking licenses. He spoke about his intention of creating significant reforms in the banking system around priority sector lending, payment systems, and the drive towards a cashless economy, among other areas. Within two months of this speech, the RBI published what has become known as the Mor Committee report, supporting plans for differentiated licenses; and in a record setting 10 months, the RBI finalized the guidelines and invited applications for differentiated bank licenses for small finance banks and payment banks.

At the February 2 deadline, the RBI had received 72 applicants in the small finance bank category and 41 for payment banks. The stated objective of both types of banks is to further financial inclusion. For small finance banks, this is to be accomplished through the mobilization of credit and savings to underserved segments of the population. The relatively low minimum capital requirement (approximately $16 million, versus the $80 million required for banks) offers a much more feasible option for MFIs seeking to offer more than the traditional credit-only product offering. Likewise, payment banks (which will also have a minimum capital of $16 million) will be authorized to provide small savings accounts and payments/remittance services to this same underserved market segment. This option offers a tremendous opportunity to expand product offerings for those already active in the payment space.

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> Posted by Joshua Goldstein, Principal Director for Economic Citizenship & Disability Inclusion, CFI

Last June, in my hotel room in Delhi, I read in the Sunday edition of the Times of India that hiring white girls to work wedding parties is the new status symbol in Bangalore. Though this might sound surprising, alabaster skin as the ideal of beauty (and the status that goes with it) is neither new to nor specific to India. This is not a trivial matter but a deadly serious business.

One need only look at skin whitening products, like Unilever’s “Fair and Lovely”, which are great sellers in the beauty product category in India, Bangladesh, and Thailand—indeed, in 30 countries around the world. The Unilever Sri Lanka website reads: “Today, 250 million consumers across the globe strongly connect with Fair and Lovely as a brand that stands for the belief that beauty empowers a woman to change her destiny.”

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Credit Suisse is a founding sponsor of the Center for Financial Inclusion. The Credit Suisse Group Foundation looks to its philanthropic partners to foster research, innovation and constructive dialogue in order to spread best practices and develop new solutions for financial inclusion.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.
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